"Does it matter?" he asked. "Seeing as that doesn't look like it's going to happen - doesn't look like it was ever going to happen, if all those lives were any indication."
"Well, I mean, yeah . . . it matters in that the more information we have, the better our case."
"Can't you just have Hugh look it up?"
I shook my head. "Not without raising attention. It'd be better if we can get the details from you."
"Well, sorry, then. I don't remember anything more than what I told you. And honestly? I don't care."
"How can you not care?" I asked incredulously. "It's your soul we're talking about!"
"I'll take my chances," he said.
A spark of anger permeated the sorrow that had clung to me these last couple days. "There are no 'chances.' It's a done deal. Your soul belongs to Hell. Nothing's going to change it."
"Does it really matter? You gave your soul to Hell."
"For you!" I cried. "I did it for you. To save you. I would do it a hundred times over if I had to."
Seth scoffed. "Why didn't you just not cheat on me one time?"
"I was young, and I was stupid," I said, amazed at how levelly I could acknowledge that. "I was scared, and I felt like you were so far away from me. Like I wasn't part of your priorities anymore. It was all about work and music for you."
"And you never thought about talking to me about any of that first? You know you can always bring anything up to me."
I sighed. "To you, maybe. Not to Kyriakos. He . . . you . . . may have meant well but wasn't always so easy to get through to."
"But I am him," argued Seth, though he sound a little unsure. "Er, was."
"Yes and no," I said. "Look, I'm no expert on reincarnation, but from what I know, even though the soul and some parts of the character are constant, there's still, like . . . evolving taking place. You grow and change. That's the point of reincarnation. You're the same person, but you aren't. You weren't perfect back then. Hell, you aren't now. Maybe you - Seth - can handle talking about this . . . maybe after ten lives, you've developed enough relationship maturity. Back then? I'm not so sure. I obviously didn't have it either."
"Obviously," he repeated. His gaze held me for a long time, and this time, I couldn't tell what he was feeling. At least there was no overt hate or anything. Either that, or he'd simply learned to conceal it. Finally, he said, "I meant it. I don't remember the contract details. . . . Just that I would be allowed to keep finding you."
"That's it?" I said. "Nothing else? If there's anything more . . . I mean, the stakes here are huge, Seth. I know you said you'd take your chances, but remember when we're talking about your soul, we're looking beyond the scope of one human life. We're looking at eternity."
"There you go again," he said, with a small, rueful smile. "Making an argument for the sanctity of the soul, a soul you threw away."
"And I told you before, I'd do it again."
"So you wouldn't have to face me and look me in the eye after what you'd done."
"In part," I said. "But also to save your life. To give you a chance at happiness. Because at that moment . . . that was more important than my eternity."
Seth took a long time to answer, and I again wished I knew what was happening behind those brown eyes. Whose thoughts were stirring in there? His or Kyriakos's? Or any of the other men I'd had turbulent romances with?
"You didn't want to face me then," he said at last. "But here you are. Why? To save your own soul?"
"To save both our souls," I said.
Seth straightened up from his slouch against the wall and moved toward the door. "I can't help you. I mean it - I don't remember anything else. Now. If you'd please make some polite excuse to the others and leave, I'd really appreciate it."
He came to stand in front of me in the doorway, and for a half a second, time stood still as we studied each other, only a few inches apart. A thousand feelings warred within me, powered by a thousand years' worth of lifetimes. With a slow nod, I yielded and let him walk past me.
He didn't look back.
The next week was one of the longest in my life. Every moment that passed was a moment without Seth and another reminder that I'd lost my one great love.
Even if I hadn't quit as Santa's helper, that job would've been done now anyway, so my days were made even longer by their emptiness. Hugh was over a lot that week, and sometimes he and Roman tried to cheer me up or at least distract me. Mostly, they were holed up together, working on my appeal to Hell. They occasionally consulted me on it, but Hugh had most of the info he needed and simply had to put it all together in the appropriate manner. The two of them discussed other things too, mostly having to do with Hell's legal system in general. I didn't entirely understand why, but Roman was very adamant about learning every detail of it. It was like he was trying to pass the bar exam or something.
I tried to preoccupy myself with packing for Las Vegas. Even with my appeal, I couldn't count on anything changing with my current Hellish status. So, I had to go forward with life as though Vegas were definitely in my future. Packing was mindless enough, however, that it didn't distract me so much as just provide more time for me to ruminate and agonize over being apart from Seth.
Packing also had its own pitfalls because I kept running into things that reminded me of him. The worst was when I unearthed a box of keepsakes collected from over the centuries. The most recent addition was a ring Seth had given me last Christmas, just before we broke up. It was a modern twist on a Byzantine wedding ring, decorated with dolphins and sapphires. Even when we'd gotten back together, I'd left it in the box. Little did he know that I also had - in the same box - my actual wedding ring from the fifth century. It was worn with age but hadn't entirely lost its gleam. Looking at them both gave me a weird moment of disorientation as I tried to grasp the idea that they'd technically been given to me by the same person.
During that week, I also received a fair amount of e-mail from the Las Vegas crew. Phoebe, Bastien, Luis, and even Matthias had stayed in touch since my visit, and all seemed to have increased their excitement over my pending move. Messages I would have found so witty and touching a week ago now left a bad taste in my mouth, now that I knew the truth about the transfer. Luis was simply helping to orchestrate Hell's grand plan to keep me and Seth apart, and I didn't trust a single word he said. Still, he was a demon, and one could expect a certain amount of insincerity from him. Phoebe and especially Bastien hurt more because they were operating under the pretense of friendship. I didn't doubt Bastien was still my friend, but everything he sent me seemed forced, since it was coming from the orders of those above him.
Matthias was kind of a mystery. I didn't know what role he played here, if he was just a convenient mortal they'd found to take me on or if he was in league with Hell. Many humans knowingly were, in the hopes of grandiose rewards someday. For all I knew, he could be an innocent in all this, just an ordinary guy who thought he'd lucked out in finding a dancer. Without being able to say for sure, I took no joy in his e-mails either.
Notably missing from the Las Vegas gang's correspondence was Jamie. I'd received no friendly "Can't wait to see you!" messages at all from him, something I suspected was also a direct result of Hell's orders. They wouldn't want to risk the topic of Milton again. When I mentioned this to Roman and Hugh, they told me it would be surprising if Jamie was even still in Las Vegas. If Hell saw him as a liability that might inadvertently expose the double-contract snafu, Hugh felt the odds were good they'd simply removed him to prevent me from finding him. If so, I hoped it was simply a matter of a transfer and that the imp hadn't been punished for drunkenly revealing information he didn't realize was dangerous.
On New Year's Eve, Hugh and Roman told me my petition was finished. They presented it to me, a staggeringly huge stack of paper filled with legalese, and showed me where to sign. There was an air of both gravity and pride around them, like they'd just created a painstakingly crafted work of art. Considering how rare this type of event was, perhaps that wasn't such a bad assessment.
I gave the ream back to Hugh, once I'd signed it about fifteen times. "Now what?" I asked.
"Now I take it to Mei and say you gave it to me to submit to Hell. I also claim ignorance about what this is in regard to, but the fact that it went through me tips her off that there's a witness to it all. Not that she'd probably 'lose it' or anything, but . . . well, with demons, it's best to be cautious."